MONROVIA >> A freeway crash involving an overturned casino-bound tour bus sent more than 50 people to the hospital Thursday.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief John Tripp said he was amazed there weren’t more serious injuries in the 10 a.m. crash on the eastbound 210 Freeway just west of Irwindale Avenue.
A total of 52 people were taken to eight area hospitals with injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to broken bones, fire officials said.
“We did not have any severe injuries,” Tripp said.
Officials described 36 of the injuries as minor, 11 as moderate and 5 as more serious, requiring immediate medical attention, fire Capt. Brian Jordan said.
Seven patients were rushed to hospital by helicopter, Jordan added.
Fifty-one of them were believed to be on-board the bus, including the driver, while the Scion XB involved the crash contained only a driver, according to fire and California Highway Patrol officials.
The tour bus and the Scion were both eastbound on the freeway when, “Somehow, they collided in the number two lane,” CHP Officer Rodrigo Jimenez said. The cause of the initial collision remained under investigation.
“The bus veered all the way to the right, off the roadway, and overturned,” Jimenez said.
The bus came to rest on its side beside traffic lanes, with several passengers trapped inside, CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos said.
Once the injured people had been cared for, the focus shifted to sifting through the wreckage to figure out what happened. CHP Officer Rick Quintero said.
“Initially the primary focus is on the injured parties,” Quintero said. “Now it is just a matter of gathering the evidence on the scene as well as turning over that charter bus and opening up those lanes.”
All lanes in both directions of the 210 Freeway were briefly shut down as helicopters were landed to pick up patients. The eastbound lanes remained closed hours after the collision. Officials worked to reopen traffic lanes as quickly as possible as cars backed up behind the closure.
Early reports from the CHP indicated a semi-truck was involved, though ultimately that was determined not to be the case.
Stopped drivers exited their cars and crossed barriers to see what happened, but were ordered back in their cars by officials
A total of nine agencies took part in the rescue effort and investigation, Tripp said.
“We were crossing the concrete line (on the freeway) and walking to see what was going on, so they cop came by and told everyone to get back in their cars,” said Adrian Canto, who was stuck on the 210 Freeway just west of the Irwindale exit. The Pasadena resident had been on the freeway for more than an hour by 11 a.m.
“There was like a total of 5 helicopters that showed up, now literally a police motorcycle just went by us,” he said. “A couple of those have been going by but they haven’t told us anything.”
The overturned charter bus operated by Da Zhen Travel Agency was en route to San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, according to Da Da Zhen travel consultant Anna Zhang.
The accident reportedly happen after a car cut in front of the bus, causing it to swerve into the embankment in an attempt to avoid a collision, Zhang said.
The company has only had minor fender-benders in the past, Zhang said.
“We’ve never had such a large accident before, the manager and owner are taking it very seriously, they’ve both gone to the scene of the accident to handle the situation,” Zhang said in Mandarin.
Roughly 40 people registered for the bus trip at $15 each, but the company does accept walk-ons at its stops, so the total number of passengers could be higher. The passengers are mostly local, but some came from out of the country, Zhang said.
The company’s bus department went to the scene to find out more information and so details are limited, she said. Multiple families have called in trying to find out what happened.
Da Zhen Travel Agency, based out of Monterey Park, operates charter buses for tours, said Zhang when reached by phone Thursday. A bus schedule from the casino shows 14 Da Zhen Travel buses traveling daily from Hacienda Heights, Monterey Park, Rosemead and San Gabriel to the casino.
The company had a “Satisfactory” safety rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in September of 2010, but exceeded the FMCSA intervention threshold based on roadside data, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation website. A safety report from the Department of Transportation shows that the company is authorized to carry passengers, traveling 598,399 miles in 2011. Da Zhen was the subject of 30 vehicle inspections and 36 driver inspections over the past 24 months and had not been in any reported crashes, the report shows. The company has a current $5,000,000 insurance policy through New York Marine and General Insurance Co. in New York.
– Reporters Zen Vuong, Jason Henry and Melissa Masatani contributed to this story.